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Friday, August 13, 2021

[Interview] Nick Antosca and Lenore Zion Share the Creepy Ingredients Responsible for “Brand New Cherry Flavor”

Nick Antosca and Lenore Zion reveal the secret sauce that makes ‘Brand New Cherry Flavor’ such a hypnotic and prescient horror classic.

It’s never been a more exciting time for horror–whether it’s with the caliber of movies that get released, the way in which television and streaming services have embraced the genre, the level of immersion in the latest video games, or even how horror seems to have started to invade other mainstream forms of entertainment, like superhero cinema. Horror is more prevalent than ever before, which is beyond exciting for fans of the genre, but it can also be exhausting to some extent as endless content clogs every means of distribution. 

Netflix has acquired a bit of a contentious reputation over just how much original programming they churn out, but some of the most challenging modern horror can be found on Netflix. Nick Antosca is steadily becoming a prolific name in the horror genre, having written and produced some of the most iconic series of the past decade like Channel Zero, Hannibal, The Act, and the upcoming Chucky series. Antosca is joined by fellow Channel Zero alum, Lenore Zion, to craft Netflix’s latest neon fever dream, Brand New Cherry Flavor (read my review).

Brand New Cherry Flavor is one of the most frightening and thought-provoking series to hit Netflix in years. It’s a nightmarish examination of revenge and the bond that’s created through trauma, which has no shortage of haunting visuals. Antosca and Zion break down the layered messages, ‘90s influences, and the crafting of such flawed characters, all of which contributes to why Brand New Cherry Flavor is such a striking horror series. 

*This interview contains brief and general spoilers for ‘Brand New Cherry Flavor’*

Bloody Disgusting: To begin with, how did you first become familiar with Todd Grimson’s novel and why did you want to adapt it into this series?

Nick Antosca: I’ll try to give the short version of this. Back in 2007/2008, I became e-mail pen pals with Todd without really knowing who he was, but just through the Internet literary world. He told me about this book that he had written—I tracked it down because it was out of print—read it, and was kind of stunned and taken aback. There’s this intense, amoral yet relatable, protagonist Lisa Nova [Rosa Salazar], who I kind of fell in love with. Her journey is so interesting and unique. I had never really read a book like it, so it stuck with me. Meanwhile, over the next couple of years I headed out to L.A. and decided to start writing for TV. In 2016, I gave the book to Lenore—who I had become friends with and later worked on Channel Zero together—and told her to check it out. That maybe there was something there that we could do something with. 

Lenore Zion: There was obviously a lot there to play with. The book is just an endless series of “holy crap” moments. It’s one of the most fun books that I’ve ever read in my life. As soon as I finished it I was like, “Yes, let’s make this!”

BD: This series really makes some helpful changes to the book in my opinion, particularly with Boro, but it also just streamlines other elements like Lisa’s tattoos, her father and her trip to Rio, and the handling of other characters. Can you talk a little bit on figuring out how and where to make these changes?

Antosca: You never know how many seasons you’re going to get, or how much money will be given to the budget, or whatever. So we wanted to tell a contained story. We wanted to take everything that we loved from the book and put it into one season and focus on Lisa’s character, Lisa’s journey, and the story of somebody who has a whole lot of stuff locked up inside of her and is desperate to get it out into the world. And she has to navigate through this nightmare world to do it. That’s why we condensed the story down quite a bit,  but to still retain its core spirit. Then we switched Boro’s character [Catherine Keener] because we didn’t want that relationship to be too similar to what Lisa shares with Lou [Eric Lange]. We didn’t want her to be under the thumb of two men in Hollywood. We wanted to really form a maternal vibe between Boro and Lisa. 

Zion: It’s a really interesting dynamic to creatively explore between a maternal figure and another woman who needs and wants the help of that maternal figure, but then it sours. It was a lot of fun.

Antosca: And we got to cast Catherine Keener!

BD: She’s so good here and throws so much into the character. Was there a lot that Keener personally brought to Boro?

Zion: Absolutely, right down to the wardrobe. When we first started shooting she arrived with a whole set of clothing that she had bought from thrift stores. She went a long way in terms of establishing Boro’s very nature. She’s quite good at it, too.

Antosca: We just went over to her place and she showed us all of these vintage clothes that I think she had gotten in Miami. She was like, “I think this could be Boro—she’s kind of like a rock star.” A lot of that stuff ended up being Boro’s actual wardrobe in the show. She and Rosa brought a ton to their characters. They added a lot that wasn’t on the page.

BD: I’ve loved Rosa for forever and I think some of her best work is in this show. She’s so out of control in this. It’s great. 

Zion: Her range is insane. She’s so good. Something that she brought to the show, which I absolutely love, is this brilliant sense of comic timing. I think she’s one of the funniest actresses that I’ve worked with.

Antosca: We loved her so much in Alita and Undone, but we wanted to make her a lead without a bunch of animation all over her!

BD: On the topic of Lisa, her story begins in a very familiar place, but she goes through such a transformation. Do you want the audience to grapple with their feelings over Lisa and if she deserves to achieve her goals or not? 

Antosca: We do want the audience to grapple with their feelings regarding Lisa. I don’t want to lead them in either direction, but we want the audience to grapple with their feelings regarding everyone in this story as it continues to evolve. We also want people to think about what a creative journey looks like—what that means. What’s important to focus on and what’s important to let go. 

BD: To expand on that, the series also really explores the connection that can form through trauma and the intimacy that’s created between victim and abuser. What were you looking to say on that topic, especially in the context of the horror genre?

Zion: The concept of trauma bonding is really fascinating to us. I think that was one of the most interesting aspects of the series to explore. The most interesting thing about Lisa is that she has this trauma bond with more than one person. It directly connects back to this creative passion that she has. I think a lot of people can forget that if somebody screws you over, then yeah, they screw you over, but with Lisa, she has something that she’s deeply passionate about stolen from her. It’s an intensified loss and that means that everything that follows it is going to be crazy and intense.

BD: These themes that the series gets into regarding power dynamics and manipulation in Hollywood certainly feels very timely even though the story is set back in the ‘90s. Why are the ‘90s so crucial to this story?

Antosca: There are a lot of reasons. We fell in love with the idea of watching movies from that time period as we were developing the show. However, if you’re telling a story about a filmmaker in the present day, it’s just a fundamentally different story. They pick up their phone. They go on TikTok. It’s just frankly not as interesting.

Zion: And it’s just easier to physically make a movie now versus then. 

BD: I was a huge Channel Zero fan and this very much feels like it could be another season of that, but there’s a very distinct look going on here. How did you decide on the look for the series and the different directors?

Zion: We did watch quite a few movies from the ‘90s, which did inspire us in many ways. We talked about the show looking like True Romance during the day and Lost Highway at night. We kind of fell in love with that idea. We also got extremely lucky with our DP, Celiana Cárdenas, who brought absolute genius to the show and made it look gorgeous for us. 

Antosca: Arkasha Stevenson, who directed the pilot, also shot season three of Channel Zero. We just wanted to make sure that every director that came onto this really had that indie spirit. That they weren’t just clocking in for an episode of TV, but were actually really passionate about the story. Gandja Monteiro, who did episodes two and three, she felt like she really related to Lisa. Matt Sobel and Jake Schreier too, everybody brought a fresh sensibility and real energy to their episodes. Along with Celiana shooting the whole thing, it all just brought a great visual style to everything.

Zion: And Nick directed the last episode, too!

BD: Well I wanted to bring that up because this is your directorial debut, Nick! What was that like and why was this the project to do it with?

Antosca: Having had the book and Lisa character in my head for so long, as well as having executive produced five seasons of TV before this and been on set, I really just felt like it was time. And just being so passionate about the character and the show. I was also co-showrunning with someone that I really trusted, so I knew that I could be on set directing and that Lenore could be handling the showrunning duties that we’d typically tackle together. I felt safe to direct for this first time. 

BD: A lot of the season is spent discussing the quality of Lisa’s horror short, which can be a difficult thing to properly bring to life. Why was it important to actually show the short in the series and how did its particular look and style come about?

Antosca: I think we knew that we always had to show it, otherwise it feels like cheating. Lisa’s short film is raw. It’s not supposed to be a masterpiece. It’s supposed to show promise through raw energy that makes you go, “Woah, what the fuck! That came out of nowhere.” So in terms of establishing the look of that short, we spoke to Rosa and Matt Sobel–who shot it–and we looked at some films that Lisa would have been influenced by, like early Lars von Trier stuff. Because it’s directed by Lisa Nova and because Rosa is so integral to that character, we wanted to just bring everyone together into that brain trust of what her short would look like. 

Zion: There’s a line that Lou says when he’s asked about Lisa’s film and he says that “it has potential.” I think that’s what we wanted people to see in it. It’s not that it’s supposed to be perfect, polished, or a genius film. It’s that you see the raw talent that’s in there.

BD: There are so many disturbing visuals in this show, but can you break down that body-horror sex scene when Roy’s arm is going right into Lisa’s wound a little? It’s some of the best effects work that I’ve seen in a while and goes full Cronenberg.

Antosca: We did have an intimacy coordinator to handle the hand going into the orifice because we—and I don’t think anyone else on the set—had ever done a sex scene like that before. The actors were really excited and game to do it. I think after we shot that scene we all knew that it was going to be something special.

BD: Were you thinking about Crash and Videodrome when prepping for that scene?

Zion: I’m always thinking about Crash and Videodrome

BD: You already kind of indicated that you view this show as a limited series, but its conclusion is also somewhat open-ended. Is this firmly finished or do you have ideas where another season could go if there’s interest?

Antosca: We imagined it as contained. The stars would have to align in some kind of crazy way for there to be more. Just knowing how streaming shows work now, and having done this for a while, we just wanted to make sure that we got everything that we wanted to say and capture out in the first season.

Zion: It was really such a joy to work with everyone on this and get the chance to bring this insane story to life. Who knew that anybody would let us make this!

All eight episodes of ‘Brand New Cherry Flavor’ are currently available to stream on Netflix


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